*Fonseka: Northern offensives on track
Jaffna-based fighting Divisions establish new FDL

Dismissing mounting criticism of Wednesday’s bloody army offensive on the Jaffna front, Army Chief Lt. General Sarath Fonseka asserted it wouldn’t impede the ongoing military action to bring the Tigers to their knees.

The veteran of some of the bloodiest battles in the northern theatre said the enemy no longer had the wherewithal to regain the upper hand on the battlefield.

The tough talking Army Chief said his assessment wouldn’t please critics who never expected the military to regain the East and then zero-in-on the Vanni region. They would be disappointed, Fonseka told The Island Friday afternoon as his troops battled the LTTE on the Jaffna front while troops on the Mannar, Vavuniya-Madhu and Weli Oya made progress.

He vehemently rejected claims that the army lost almost 150 officers and men in action and over double that number wounded due to negligence on the part of the army top brass. "We didn’t underestimate their strength," Fonseka said, emphasising that the 53 and 55 Divisions involved in the assault had been fully aware of the enemy’s strength.

He placed the number of dead at 47, over 300 wounded and 33 categorised missing in action. The LTTE on Thursday returned bodies of 28 soldiers to the army through the ICRC.

Twice during the interview officers interrupted him over the phone to brief him of the status of operations on the Jaffna and Madhu fronts. The Army Chief said the LTTE lost at least 160 cadres during Wednesday’s assault.

Of them, they had already released the names of 92 cadres, he said.

The Lt. General said five battalions of the 53 and 55 Divisions had been involved in the offensive and they had achieved their goal despite fierce resistance. The Mechanised Infantry hadn’t been involved in the assault although armoured fighting vehicles had provided artillery support. Fielding questions he said troops secured 700 meters ahead of the 8 km front line from Kilaly to Kadolana before heavy artillery and mortar barrage had forced them to give up the newly captured positions. Finally the army settled for a new frontline about 600 meters ahead of their FDL, the army chief said. According to him the distance between their front line and that of the LTTE was just 100 meters and they were fully confident of meeting any challenge.

Some of the frontline units involved in the assault had come under artillery and mortar fire between the first and the second lines held by the LTTE, he said.

Discussing progress on the Weli Oya front, the army chief said the 59 Division deployed there had so far advanced four and half kms northwards. "The Weli Oya front is about 12 kms wide," he said. His troops were about two kms away from a major LTTE stronghold. The LTTE was offering stiff resistance on the Weli Oya front where the army was making slow but steady progress. He said troops had come across a mixture of LTTE units as they advanced on enemy territory but the units deployed on the Jaffna and Weli Oya fronts were believed to be the toughest.

The 54 Division on the Vavuniya-Madhu front was also making progress while the Task Force 1 on the Mannar front, too, had made significant progress, he said. The LTTE wouldn’t be able to successfully resist the army on four different fronts, a confident Fonseka said. He revealed the army had now secured positions about 12 kms north of Madhu church and depending on the progress achieved by the 57 Division which had been engaged in operations since March last year, the army would be in a comfortable position.

Fonseka revealed the gradual army build-up in the Vavuniya-Madhu and Mannar fronts had facilitated the deployment of LRRP units behind the enemy lines. Dismissing criticism of his battle-field strategy, Fonseka, who survived a suicide attempt by a woman LTTE cadre exactly two years ago, said the army was in a stronger position. The LTTE was not what it used to be, he said vowing to bring the ongoing major offensive action to a successful end during his tenure as the commander.

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